The Chicago Bears have only two of the team's pre-2015 first-round draft picks on the current roster: G Kyle Long (2013, 20th overall) and CB Kyle Fuller (2014, 14th overall).
Both players were selected by former GM Phil Emery and each was considered a reach at the time. Long has panned out, and then some, earning Pro Bowl trips in each of his first three NFL seasons.
The same can't be said for Fuller, who has been on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list since having his knee scoped back in August. Fuller was eligible to return from practice on Nov. 30 but he still hasn't been activated, and it appears highly unlikely he will before today's 3 p.m. deadline.
"Any time a guy’s hurt, there’s three stages to getting back to the field," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said yesterday. "One is you’ve got to get medical clearance. Two, the player’s got to say he’s ready to go and feels confident and he’s champing at the bit to go play. And then the coaches get involved and see if he’s better than what the other choices are and if he really is back to being able to play. A has happened. B hasn’t, so C is a non-issue."
Fangio is by far the straightest shooter in the business. His honesty regarding Fuller isn't surprising and there's no reason to believe Fangio is lying.
So the Bears have a 24-year-old former first rounder who has shown no desire to get back on the field following routine arthroscopic surgery four months ago, from which he has been medically cleared. This while 19 of his teammates have been placed on IR, with numerous others playing through far worse injuries.
That's a bad look for Fuller. When a player's motivation and desire are questioned, that typically makes him a high-priority trade candidate.
GM Ryan Pace has shown no hesitancy to rid his roster of me-first players like Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett, and they actually produced on the field. In 32 career games, Fuller has only a handful of strong performances and has never truly performed like a first-round cornerback. Pace has no ties to Fuller, so he'll likely whatever he can for him get this upcoming off-season.
Unfortunately for the Bears, that may not be much. CB Justin Gilbert, who was taken six picks ahead of Fuller in the 2014 draft, was traded to the Steelers for just a 2018 sixth-round pick.
If Fuller is shipped out, he'll be the next in a long line of failed first-round picks for the Bears. Previous to Fuller and Long were LB Shea McClellin, OL Gabe Carimi, OL Chris Williams, TE Greg Olsen and RB Cedric Benson.
Along with trading away Olsen for some ungodly reason, former GM Jerry Angelo also traded the team's 2009 and 2010 first-round picks for QB Jay Cutler, who has not provided first-round value and will likely be waived at the end of the season.
In addition, last year's first rounder, WR Kevin White, has played just four games in his first two NFL seasons.
If you're looking for one main reason why the Bears haven't made the playoffs since 2010, there you have it. When a team misses on just one first-round pick, it can set them back for years. When you miss on nearly every first-round pick over the course of a decade, 3-11 campaigns like this one should be expected.
While Fuller appears to be another first-round casualty, there is hope for the future. White has shown promise when on the field and Leonard Floyd's 7.0 sacks are second only to Joey Bosa among rookie pass rushers.
If Floyd and White pan out, along with Long, that will be a major step toward solidifying the foundation of the franchise moving forward.
With or without Fuller, expect Pace to make cornerback one of his top priorities in both free agency and the draft. That my involve investing another first-round pick on the position.
To extend his career as GM in Chicago, Pace must find a hungrier, more talented cornerback than Fuller.